Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
We started this little journey towards Indianapolis at the four week point when Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin were battling for the Not-OSU berth and Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan State were statistically still in it. Now? Well, with two weeks left, the reality that this column is about to be a lot less interesting from here on out has set in. Still, there are some really fun subplots left to explore from here to Indy.
The Decided by Default Division (The Leaders)
Congratulations are due to Wisconsin who after four months of the perceived berth into the Conference Championship Game, finally clinched their spot with a sterling guaranteed third place finish in the Leader Division. Color me a bit jaded when I say that this is probably a lot less compelling than it should be, but you take advantage of the situations that present themselves. After trying to do everything in their power not to do this, Wisconsin beat Indiana like we all thought they would. As Hilary said, Montee Ball did what Montee Ball does, that is, beat Indiana into submission.
So why go through the various levels of each team? Well, two reason really. 1) I started this running column and feel like I need to see it all the way to Indianapolis and 2) I think the division race and the trophy is just as interesting a subplot as the actual berth to Indy. Think about it, Ohio State is guaranteed a share of the trophy and all, but a couple of losses could force a share with Penn State, which is amazing. Everything that could encapsulate the Big Ten would be epitomized by a shared trophy by the two teams that are going to force a reckoning on January 1st that will be, most likely, ugly and awful and bloody and other adjectives that only a Quentin Tarantino flick could portray. But enough of my rambling, let's go through the tiers.
Seriously Guys, Always. Take. The. Punishment.
Ohio State (6-0)
How good is this team? For most of us, we remember Indiana and Cal and forget Nebraska (you don't forget Nebraska... well this is awkward). However, it would be remiss of us not to at least ask how good this team could be on a national stage. In fact, if there was an opportunity for Ohio State to go to the Rose Bowl or better as an undefeated, would we give them more credit? I am not sure, and we probably will not be able to discuss this for another couple of weeks because, you know, getting ahead usually ends up being worthless. Still, I cannot help but believe this team would run with some of the big boys, especially with Braxton Miller doing Braxton Miller things. I am sure that Urban Meyer's goal for the team at this point is to push the guys to a conference division title so he can make snarky comments to Bruh-liema at the coaches conference next year:
Urban: Hey Bret, guess who has a trophy, went undefeated and is gonna kick your ass this year? This guy. Oh, and give me ALL THE RECRUITZZZZZ!!!
The moral of this story? Always take the self-inflicted bans. Also, Urban is probably just as bro-like as Bret, but he has Crystal Trophies and doesn't whine to
dad Delany. With that said, please oh please Wisconsin beat Ohio State. I want to root for Ohio State in peace next week without the taint of them being actually undefeated.
Conspiracy Level: Ungodly High
Penn State (4-2)
Sorry, that was a mean jab. Nobody at Penn State really believes there is a working conspiracy by all Big Ten employees to out Penn State as a terrible school so that they quit the conference. [checks the message boards]. Um, I apologize, there are people who believe this. Well, maybe it's just a subconscious thing. All jokes aside, Penn State can capitalize on the season by winning out and hoping for Ohio State to fall off these next two weeks. Then they can get a fancy trophy from James Delany. My guess is that he'll send an associate director to give it to you in private to prove how much he doesn't like you (that was another conspiracy joke at Nebraska's expense... so at least you are in good company).
Go Make a Bowl Now
Both of these teams probably have mixed feelings about being grouped here at this point. Indiana, for example, was on the cusp of being special but now face an angry Penn State and Purdue in back-to-back weeks. To make a bowl, Indiana needs to win both, but that seems like so much less fun than Indianapolis. Can they get hyped up?
As for Purdue... YAY BOWLZ!!! Seriously, Purdue is pretty much the worst and so what do they do? They go out and beat Iowa. If they win and Indiana wins this weekend, we have a Trophy Game for a date with the MAC. My money is on neither of them making a bowl, but it would be really nice if they did. Otherwise this is the division that has one bowl team and that is just depressing.
Wins are Nice Things. So Are Competent Coaches. You Can't Have Either of Them.
That was a really convoluted title. Oh well. Not much can be said that won't be said by Chad during Northwestern week where we will talk about the virtues of that monopoly piece they play for. I guess the only thing that can be said at this point is that if Beckman is really all-in on this rivalry thing, he better back it up with a win. I'm guessing this doesn't happen. I won't write too much more because giving attention is also a nice thing, and we know Illinois can't have nice things.
The Slightly Still Up In The Air Division (Legends Division)
This division is interesting because there is still drama in the air. While Nebraska controls its own destiny, I am 100% confident that something bad can and will happen in the next two weeks. My nightmare scenario includes a loss to Iowa and all that would come with that, and an awful showing by Ohio State versus Michigan basically leading to an awful end to my favorite food holiday. Also, next week is Thanksgiving... How this is possible is beyond me. I understand the whole calendar thing and such, but this really snuck up on me this year.
Trying to Make a Bowl But Not Winning the Conference
Michigan State (2-4)
If there is evidence for a team to schedule easy in the non-conference, I present you with Iowa and Michigan State. Now, I cannot sit here and say either schedule was a world-beater, but easier opponents puts both teams 4-0 in non-con and bowl bound. Now? Iowa needs to beat Michigan AND Nebraska to get an extra month of practice. I do not like their odds. However, I would really like them to beat Michigan because, well, obvious reasons.
As for Michigan State? Notre Dame is fun and all, but it does not help the overall recruiting cycle and now you need to win another game to make a bowl. I have more confidence in the Spartans however, because they have Northwestern and Minnesota and I think they have the defense to win one of those. See, scheduling Central Michigan is a good idea. Iowa should really... oh wait.
Bowl Bound But Also Not Winning the Conference
I almost feel bad for Northwestern. Well, let me think about that. I don't really feel bad for them, but I do kind of feel for their fans. It has got to be frustrating to know that the fourth quarter is going to be a roller coaster of emotion that as of late ends poorly. I was watching their game against Michigan and I thought, "Michigan is totally going to tie this game." I wasn't sure how, but that quasi-Hail Mary pretty much was the most Northwestern thing ever. The DB had three choices: level Roundtree who was unexplainably (real word there. huh.) by himself IN A PREVENT DEFENSE, spike the ball to the ground to not allow the ONE RECEIVER IN THE AREA A CHANCE TO CATCH IT, or let the ball sail over the heads of both of them. In tipping the ball carelessly (of course I am conjecturing here. that was a tough play for one guy to be making) he gave Michigan the one chance to do something positive. Because of course Northwestern would do that...
Northwestern fans have just nodded solemnly. Sorry about that. On an upside, you are going to a decent bowl and so long as you finish somewhat strong, happy days are here again. You get to try to win a bowl game!
Speaking of bowls... Minnesota is bowling! This is big news considering the dumpster fire that was Minnesota football a year ago. Also, Off Tackle Empire has not one article about Minnesota Football, but two articles about Minnesota Football. Minnesota has two difficult games to finish off the season with going to Nebraska and hosting Michigan State, but hey, bowl games are fantastic when you haven't been there consistently. No complaints coming out of the Twin Cities.
Gotta Win Them All. Also, HAIL TO THE GOLDEN GOPHERS...
Most of us believed that Michigan would win the division going into the season. I don't have the exact numbers on what most is, but believe me, it was a popular opinion. Then Michigan got obliterated by the death machine Crimson Tide and played in the mess of a game versus Notre Dame. We left them for dead. Then they played well in conference until Nebraska which leads us to now. Michigan needs some help, but Nebraska lives dangerously. Beat Iowa and keep rooting against the Huskers. It's a good healthy Wolverine formula.
On a sidenote, how ridiculously good does Michigan feel about themselves in light of the Northwestern game? Sure, it was close, but that happens. They kept their hopes alive and kind of screwed with all Nebraska fan's heads in the process. It was like a, "Maybe if we play possum for pretty much four quarters, we can lull Nebraska into a false sense of security," type of move. If losing the way they did was pretty much the most Northwestern thing ever, winning the way Michigan did was pretty much the most Michigan thing ever.
Just. Don't. Screw. Up.
Speaking of doing exactly what people expect, Nebraska spotted their opponent another double digit second half lead and with some lucky breaks and a soul-crushing rushing game, Nebraska kept the drive to Indy alive. Since I started these pieces, Nebraska has managed to stave off their sure demise. In fact, they have almost built up some confidence and momentum. My fear as a fan, however, is that this is probably just a setup for my nightmare as noted above and I just do not know if I want to live in a world where Iowa ruins my life.
On a flipside, it is fun to know Nebraska fans are three wins away from being pretty much the worst thing ever on the Big Ten message boards, so have fun with that everyone. Also have fun watching what little football we have left. Before you know it, all we will have left is College Basketball (and hockey for some of you which is awesome) and that world is a less fun world. Then again, Mayans. Alright, I'm done rambling. Enjoy the weekend.